Editorial : Making plans
Is the Martha's Vineyard economy buffered against the global turmoil that has precipitated a recession, whose possible length and breadth are the favorite subjects of debate by opinion leaders and national political leaders? Not likely.
Are Vineyard businesses making plans to meet whatever challenges present themselves in 2009, and especially in the spring, summer and fall of next year? Indeed, they are, as Times writer Steve Myrick reports this morning. It's smart business practice, and whatever the 2009 business climate turns out to be, preparatory thinking and planning by Islanders will make life happier for all of us. Actually, not quite all of us. It is doubtless the case that there will be some job loss, pay cuts, and benefit reductions that will make living in this expensive community more difficult still. And, sadly, the troublesome correlative is that as more Islanders need some help during what may be a difficult year ahead, the helping organizations, mostly nonprofits, of course, will struggle to meet increasing demands for their services with narrowing resources. If there is a horrifying economic squeeze lying in wait for us, one way or another, we'll all be affected.
The response to Mr. Myrick's survey of business owners and operators this week is revealing, and somewhat comforting. Most business operators, across the spectrum of economic activity, share the view that the lack of consumer confidence is a big drag on economic performance. The local economy, they agree, depends on whether Islanders and visitors are emotionally prepared to buy, more than it does on the dimensions of their financial resources.
"People still make decisions about their discretionary use of time or money in emotional ways," John Ryan, the economist, explained to Mr. Myrick. "A lot of the reason why people don't spend money in a recession is that the emotion that drives them is fear."
Probably true, but having resources to dispose of is also a constant in the equation. And, also a constant, is the requirement that business operators must take practical steps to support their continued business success, no matter the emotional mood of their customers. Our report this morning suggests that smart Vineyard business owners are taking the necessary steps.
As Edgartown Books manager and buyer Susan Mercier acknowledged, the "daunting" challenge of keeping her store open this winter will require staffing decisions, promotional "aggression," and careful buying, so that pricing may become an attraction powerful enough to overcome her customers' lack of confidence in the economic outlook.
And, after all is said and done, economist Caroline Fenske had the bedrock best advice for Vineyard businesses. "Be on top of your game," she said, "have the best product, have the best service."